Study claims recreational ecstasy use and depression unrelated

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ecstacy pills

A new study published in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology and conducted at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette finds no significant link between Ecstasy (MDMA) use and depression.

Ecstacy: common street drug

A common street drug, Ecstasy is found mostly in tablet form, and often taken in a nightclub setting. Its psychological effects include making users affectionate, giving them the impression of heightened senses in response to music, and overall euphoria. Physically the drug acts as a stimulant, a mild diuretic and causes hyperthermia, which is why, in combination with physical exertion leading to perspiration, users often drink large amounts of water to prevent dehydration.

Paxil: a common anti-depressant
Serotonin: neurotransmitter that moderates mood

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter, also known as 5-HT or 5-hydroxytryptamine, implicated in controlling mood. In fact, most well known anti-depressants, such as Paxil or Prozac, are believed to work by stabilizing the level of serotonin in the brain (SSRIs). Ecstasy is believed to increase the levels of serotonin because of its effects on mood. Research in lab animals has provided evidence that it causes long-term post-use serotonin depletion. A common hypothesis among many researchers is that drop in serotonin levels below normal could be recognized by a corresponding decline in mood.

Sixty-four participants took part in the study. One half of the participants between the age of 18 to 45 were obtained by word of mouth or over the Internet. The other half consisted of controls that had no experience taking ecstasy, recruited from introductory psychology classes at the university.

According to the study, participants filled out a questionnaire about their personal and drug use history. The personal history questionnaire queried the gender, age, psychiatric background, and current anti-depressant drug usage. Alternately, the drug history questionnaire explored the lifetime usage and usage habits of a wide variety of substances, including specific questions about abstinence from ecstasy and the most ecstasy taken by the participant in 12 hours.

Two tests were performed to assess psychiatric function: the Beck Depression Inventory-II(BDI-II) and the Shipley Institute of Living Scale(SILS) [1].

The BDI-II is a 21-question self-assessment that according to many sources is empirically valid for highlighting the presence and severity of depressive symptoms, and meets the requirements of the DSM-IV, which is the standard reference that mental health professionals use to diagnose psychological disorders.

The SILS is administered to assess cognitive abilities. It was developed in 1940 as a measure of general intellectual functioning, and is still administered in its original form.

According to the study there was no significant difference in the BDI-II scores between the control and experimental groups. Furthermore, no significant correlation was found between any of the conditions of ecstasy use.

This study seems to go against the consensus that MDMA reduces serotonin levels and causes some measurable damage. However, there are other studies in the same journal that go into more detail about individual usage habits and harm reduction strategies that need to be considered alongside the data presented with this study. The study claims that when experimental groups are gathered via the Internet, they could be biased (more available information, taking less) and adopt different harm reduction strategies than average users.

However, according to Professor David Nutt at University of Bristol, one could conclude Ecstasy causes less harm, and has less societal costs than alcohol.



  1. Graeme Senior. "Shipley Institute of Living Scale" — University of Southern Queensland, October 22, 2001